Beautiful Canada: Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

 

Rocky shores touched by the Atlantic Ocean are a key element in the scenic beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands along the Cabot Trail.

Rocky shores touched by the Atlantic Ocean are a key element in the scenic beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands along the Cabot Trail.

Cape Breton is a big island: the 77th largest in the world and the 18th in Canada if you are a detail-oriented type of person. Once upon a very long time ago, before the continents got divorced and started drifting away from each other, it was snuggled up to Scotland and Norway on the ancient continent of Pangaea. I feel a certain amount of affinity since my ancient ancestors drifted away from Norway and Scotland, some 300 million years later.

It’s an island of superlatives and you will be hearing a fair number on this post. The tourist bureau should hire me. I’m not alone in my praise. The pretty-picture travel magazine Condé Nast considers Cape Breton to be one “of the best island destinations in the world.” Numerous other magazine and newspaper articles agree.

The Cape Breton Highlands on the northern part of the island are the primary reason for the acclaim. Considered a northern extension of the Appalachian Mountains, the Highlands are noted for their steep ups and downs. I agree; they provided me with some of the most challenging bicycling on my 10,000-mile trip. I was amused when doing research for this post to find a Cape Breton website recommending to motorists, “You may want to check your brakes.” Indeed.

The road around the Highlands is known as the Cabot Trail. It was named after the 15th Century explorer John Cabot who was searching for a way to China on behalf of King Henry VII. (Rumor has it that the King was seeking a new place to send his many wives. Just kidding— the reality is that he wanted to spice up his life, and Asia was the place to go for spices.) Cabot may or may not have landed on the island, but locals are eager to claim him. Most experts believe his landing site was more likely Newfoundland.

There is much more to Cape Breton Island than the Cabot Trail, but the scenic highway is the primary reason that visitors flock to the island.

There is much more to Cape Breton than the Cabot Trail, but the scenic highway is the primary reason that visitors flock to the island. This post and my next one will focus on views along the Trail.

A view form the beginning of the Cabot Trail looking not toward the Cape breton Highlands.

A view from the beginning of the Cabot Trail looking out toward the Cape Breton Highlands.

The Cabot Trail is world-famous. The sign says so. The highway is what I remember most about Nova Scotia. After crossing over the Canso Causeway, I, and my two bicycle-travelling companions, Jean and Lindell, had made a beeline for it. Peggy and I did as well, following the Trans-Canada Highway 105. Since the 185-mile scenic byway travels in a circle (more or less), we had a choice of whether to travel clockwise or counter-clockwise. The travel guides recommend clockwise since going in the opposite direction puts travelers on the outside of the road as it winds along towering cliffs with scary drop-offs. The theory is that most people prefer safety to death-defying edges. But what’s the fun in that? We chose the outside with its dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the Highlands and Gulf of St. Lawrence on the west. (Besides, I am a veteran of Highway 1 on the California coast, which is much scarier.)

In addition to natural beauty, Cape Breton features both its Celtic and Acadian heritages. Some 50,000 Highland Scots migrated to the area between 1800 and 1850 as a result of the Highland Clearances where small farmers in Scotland were replaced by sheep, i.e. the hereditary aristocratic owners of the land found a better way to make money. Colaisde na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic College, was founded to promote and preserve the Scotch-Irish Gaelic Culture in Nova Scotia. Located on the Cabot Trail shortly after it leaves the Trans-Canada Highway, the college offers courses in Gaelic language, crafts, music, dance and history. Visitors are invited to stop by and see a ceilidh, a traditional Scottish dance, or even buy a kilt.

Scottish sheep photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Furry fellow. An ancestor of the sheep that replaced the Highland farmers. We were happily lost on a remote Scotland road when this guy greeted us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Gaelic College located along the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island.

The craft shop of the Gaelic College where everything Gaelic is promoted including the language.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, located several miles beyond the Gaelic College, reminded me of my own Scotch-Irish (Ulster Scot) family’s heritage— and our journey to the New World in the 1750s. We were Lowland Scots as opposed to the Highland Scots. The Mekemsons had been serious Presbyterians all the way back to the 1600s when Scottish Presbyterians had declared that God and not the King of England was their ruler. This had upset the King considerably. One of my ancestors, John Brown, was even a martyr to the cause. Peggy and I visited his gravesite in Scotland and I did a blog on him. Our family had remained Presbyterians right up until my father had become an Episcopalian (the American equivalent of the Anglican Church), a move that undoubtedly sent generations of our Presbyterian ancestors rolling over in their graves.

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

A close up of the grave of John Brown, the Scottish Martyr shot down in fron of his family in the late 1600s.

The lonely grave of John Brown, the Scottish Martyr shot down in front of his family in the late 1600s.

This shot of Peggy captures the isolation of John Brown's Grave, the white speck on the upper left of the photo.

This shot of Peggy captures the isolation of John Brown’s Grave, the white speck on the upper left of the photo.

Anyway, a series of religious, political, and economic factors had sent my ancestors first to Northern Ireland and then on to Pennsylvania and Maryland.

One third of the Cabot Trail runs through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which captures the ocean and highland scenery of the area as well as protects the wildlife and plants that call it home. Moose signs along the highway warn motorists of potential automobile-moose confrontations, which are not good for either man or moose. While Peggy and I are always aware of the potential danger, mainly we think of the signs as suggestions we may get to see a moose, always a plus. But that is a story for my next blog, along with the second toughest climb of my 10,000-mile trek and a visit to the Acadian side of the island. Following are several photos I took on the first half of the Cabot Trail.

St. Andrews Provincial Park in the Cape Breton Highlands.

Regional parks, such as St. Ann’s, demanded that we stop and admire them.

Looking the other direction at St. Ann's Provincial Park along the Cabot Trail.

Looking the other direction at St. Ann’s Provincial Park along the Cabot Trail.

Once again Peggy and I found ourselves looking at scenery that sported an early spring look.

Once again Peggy and I found ourselves looking at scenery that sported an early spring look.

Our day along the Cabot Trail varied between sunshine and threatening skies.

Our day along the Cabot Trail varied between sunshine and threatening skies.

We found these boats near the small town of Ingonish.

We found these fishing boats near the small town of Ingonish. Lobster traps are located on the pier.

I liked this lonely structure, which looks like a great place for a picnic.

I liked this lonely structure, which looks like a great place for a picnic.

And these quiet waters.

And these quiet waters.

Climbing up into the Highlands provides scenic views of the Atlantic coast.

Climbing up into the Highlands provides scenic views of the Atlantic coast.

A close-up.

A close-up.

Blue skies color the Atlantic Ocean blue.

Blue skies color the Atlantic Ocean blue.

The Cabot Trail moves between the Highlands and Coast. Give a choice between long sandy beaches and rocky coasts I will always prefer the rocky coasts, unless I happen to be on a tropical island.

The Cabot Trail moves between the highlands and coast. Given a choice between long sandy beaches and rocky coasts, I will always prefer the rocky coasts, unless, of course, I happen to be on a tropical island.

Another view.

Another view.

The cool, windy day fluffs Peggy's hair

The cool, windy day fluffs Peggy’s hair

The road leading down to Cape North, which will be the farthest point east I reach on my bike trip.

The road leading down to Cape North, the farthest east I would travel.

This church at North Bay marked my turning point. After this, I would be heading home.

This church at Cape North marked the turning point in my 10,000 mile trek. After this, I would be heading home.

Shortly after we left the church, Peggy and I came on these two bicycle tourists. How appropriate, I thought. The dark cliffs looming in the background would provide the second hardest climb in my whole trip, but that's a story for my next blog.

Shortly after we left the church, Peggy and I came on these two bicycle tourists. The dark cliffs looming in the background would provide the second hardest climb in my whole trip, but that’s a story for my next blog.

The Quiet Beauty of Nova Scotia… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Cove on East Coast of Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has a quiet beauty that grows on you. I took this photo along the East Coast’s Marine Drive.

 

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks. From Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The beauty of Nova Scotia isn’t tied to towering mountains or vast open spaces. It makes a quieter statement— a combination of water and coves and forests and highlands and valleys and villages that grows on you until you realize that you have arrived somewhere that is very special. Long after I had completed my 10,000-mile journey around North America, Nova Scotia continued to exist in my mind as one of the highlights. Our recent drive around the province as Peggy and I retraced my bike trek route reinforced this original impression.

Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland, which seems appropriate to me in that I find the beauty of the two areas similar in nature. Before it became Nova Scotia, however, it was known first as Mi’kma’ki reflecting the First Nation people who lived there, the Mi’kmaq. Afterwards the French settled the area and called it Acadia. In 1755, the British expelled most of the French as a consequence of their ongoing wars with France. Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, is based on that expulsion. Many of the people who were deported eventually ended up in Louisiana where they became known as Cajuns (Cajun derives from Cadia).

After the Acadians were expelled, numerous Scots arrived from New England to help repopulate the area. They also came from Scotland where British policies were driving them out of the Highlands. Gaelic became a common language. Following the Revolutionary War, a number of people who had remained loyal to England during the conflict resettled in Nova Scotia. Included among them was a small population of blacks who had joined Britain’s cause as a way out of slavery. What all of this means is that Nova Scotia has several distinct cultures, which, it seems to me, coexist side by side in relative harmony.

Other than a day of bicycling in Death Valley, Nova Scotia was the only place on my bike trip where I had travelling companions. Jean Snuggs and Lindell Wilken had both gone to college together in Illinois before moving out to California. I met Jean on one of the 100-mile backpack trips I led in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We had become good friends and eventually lived together. That arrangement had ended but we remained good friends. Both Jean and Lyndell were college track coaches and in excellent shape. If I recall correctly, they had also just finished bicycling the Oregon Coast. I was extremely glad I had a few thousand miles of bicycling behind me! Otherwise, it could have been a long and humbling seven days.

We didn’t linger in Halifax, which was too bad since it is a lovely city. But the open road called. We crossed over the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, picked up Highway 7 and followed it up the East Coast to Liscomb, a distance of 100 plus miles. Highway 7 is known as the Marine Highway in tourist promotions for good reasons. It closely follows the Atlantic Ocean. Inlets, coves, small rivers and towns provide an endless kaleidoscope of scenery.

The Angus

The Angus L. MacDonald Bridge in Halifax.

Crossing the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Crossing the bridge. Note the screens on the side. There is no jumping off of the bridge!

Looking back at Halifax through the screened fence on the bridge.

Looking back at Halifax through the screened fence.

Numerous islands, such as this, are scattered along Nova Scotia's East Coast.

Numerous islands, such as this, are scattered along Nova Scotia’s East Coast.

Flats like this one added another element of variety.

Flats like this one added another element of variety along the coast.

Numerous islands fill the coves along Marine Drive.

Winter storms along the Atlantic Ocean must change this incredibly calm water along Marine Drive.

We passed over several river on the East Coast ranging form calm...

We passed over several river on the East Coast ranging from calm…

Riffled river on East Coast of Nova Scotia

To slightly riffled…

To roaring. The West River flows into Sheet Harbor.

To roaring. The West River flows into Sheet Harbor. Sheet Harbor, BTW, was one of the areas that Loyalist refugees from America’s Revolutionary War settled in Nova Scotia.

We found what appeared to be a large derelict along the coast.

We found what appeared to be a large derelict stranded along the coast.

At Liscomb, Highway 7 took us inland across the peninsula to Antigonish. I have only a vague memory of Antigonish on my bike trip, which may mean that the lure of the renowned Cape Breton pulled us on past it. Peggy and I stopped, however, and the town with its St. Francis Xavier University was definitely worth the visit, as university towns often are. From Antigonish we picked up Highway 4 to Auld and the Canso Causeway. The Causeway, a 4500 foot engineering achievement that took some 10 million tons of rock to build, connects mainland Nova Scotia with the island of Cape Breton. It is where I will end today’s post. Next up: the fabulous Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail into Cape Breton Highlands’ National Park.

A road shot of Highway 7

A road shot of Highway 7 between Liscomb and Antigonish.

This guy provided some color, and class.

This guy added both class and color to the road.

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish is recognized as one of Canada's top colleges.

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish is recognized as one of Canada’s top colleges.

Antigonish is an attractive town with a number of eating establishments.

Antigonish is an attractive town with a number of eating establishments. Peggy and I had a tasty lunch here.

A number of murals decorated the downtown. This was my favorite.

A number of murals decorated the downtown. This was my favorite, given that I always like weird animals.

The mural also included this girl flying a kite.

The mural also included this girl flying kites.

Bricked in windows across the road also featured fun murals.

Bricked in windows across the road also featured fun murals such as this baker.

This cat looking out of a window also caught my attention.

And a cat looking out the window..

This sign is located at the end of the Canco

This sign was featured at the end of the Canso Causeway. I’ll use it as an introduction to my next two blogs on Cape Breton, a world-class tourist destination.

From Winchester, Virginia to Halifax, Nova Scotia… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

After three months of bicycling, I left the US and entered Canada. This is a photo of the Consulate Building in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

After three months of bicycling, I left the US and entered Canada. This is a photo of the Consulate Building in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

In my last post, I had arrived in Winchester, Virginia on my 1989 bike trek and decided I needed to make up for some lost time and give myself a break from bicycling by taking the Greyhound bus to Bangor, Maine.

I was lucky to find the Greyhound bus depot, a motel, and a bike shop all within a few blocks of each other in Winchester. The bicycle shop gave me a bike box, which I hauled back to my motel room. I recruited a trashcan newspaper to cover the floor. Motels have little tolerance for bicycle grease (understandably), and I had a bike to dismantle. Handlebars, pedals, seat, and front wheel had to come off.

While spreading the newspaper, a headline caught my attention. Zsa Zsa Gabor had been arrested for slapping a Beverly Hills motorcycle policeman who had stopped the 66-year-old in her $215,000 Rolls Royce. Apparently Jack, as in Jack Daniels, had been involved in the altercation.

I’ve traveled by Greyhound several times in my life, starting as a child. There was a local bus we had used a few times that connected Diamond Springs and Placerville (three miles away). The bus driver’s name was Pat, which I remember because I named a stray dog after him. The dog had been wandering our neighborhood for weeks, catching an occasional jack rabbit or ground squirrel for food. My mother had watched the stray grow thinner and thinner until one day she stopped the family’s well-used car, opened the door, and invited it home for a meal. Since the dog was part greyhound, I promptly named her after the bus driver. Pat was happy with the name, eternally grateful for her food bowl, and became my faithful companion for several years. I am not sure how the bus driver felt about his namesake.

I wish I had taken more notes about my bus trip from Virginia to Maine. Traveling by Greyhound is always an experience. But I was so happy for the break from peddling, I just sat back and watched the scenery fly by. Going uphill faster than five miles per hour seemed almost unreal. I do remember that I had a layover in Washington DC that I used to visit the National Art Gallery. I was lost for several hours among the Van Gogh’s, Picasso’s, Rembrandts, and Dali’s.

I also remember I had a four-hour layover in New York City from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00. Being in any Greyhound station in the middle of the night is memorable. Multiply that by 10 for downtown NYC. I watched in awe as homeless people, hookers, beggars, and, quite possibly, vampires, zombies, and an alien or two claimed the station as their own. I was careful to mind my own business and kept my gear within easy reach. Other than distributing ‘spare change,’ and passing on an offer from a scantily dressed lady, I was left alone to wonder about the nature of my fellow denizens of the night.

Morning found me on my way to Boston, Massachusetts through Connecticut and then through New Hampshire into Maine. Having stayed awake at the NYC bus station, I was in desperate need of a nap, but New England was far too interesting for sleep. Strong coffee helped keep my eyes open for most of the journey. Arriving in Bangor, Maine I quickly found a motel and slept for 12 hours.

New England has great beauty.

New England has great scenery as demonstrated by this gently flowing stream…

And this dark beauty.

And this dark beauty.

Houses, especially older ones, tend to be big. Imagine yourself cooped up with a large family over winter.

Houses, especially older ones, tend to be big. Imagine yourself cooped up with a large family over winter. These three structures are all connected and are part of the house.

I wonder how many Christmas Cards over the years have featured a New England church like this one surrounded by snow and a small village.

I wonder how many Christmas cards over the years have featured a New England church like this one surrounded by snow and a small village.

A small pond in Bangor provided me with a reflection shot.

A pond in Bangor provided me with a reflection shot.

I had been in Maine once before. In 1976, my first wife, Jo Ann, and I had taken a year off to travel through the South Pacific and Asia. But first we had bought a VW Camper Van and made a leisurely trip across the US with our Basset Hound, Socrates. My friend Morris had volunteered to keep the dog while we traveled overseas. After dropping Soc off with Morris and his wife Marianna, we had hung around for another week and backpacked on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. I wanted to make sure that Morris and the dog were compatible.

It had been a long week for us with 24/7 rain, muddy trails, black flies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums. It was much easier for Morris and Socrates. They had bonded instantly and apparently had a grand time. Upon our return from the backwoods, we had received a couple of wags from Soc before he returned to drooling over whatever treats Morris was offering him. Food had always been an important factor in determining the dog’s loyalty.

I had thought about Socrates when I woke up from my 12-hours of sleep in Bangor and put my bike back together. Shortly after breakfast, I was on Highway 1 making my way toward Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. It was a short trip, hardly longer than 50 miles. I was there by early afternoon and settled into a campground.

You might wonder why I would feature this Dunkin' Donuts sign I found outside of Bangor on the way to Bar Harbor. The reason is I never passed up a donut shop on my trip!

You might wonder why I would feature this Dunkin’ Donuts sign I found outside of Bangor on the way to Bar Harbor. The reason is I never passed up a donut shop on my trip! I’d look like an elephant if I did that now.

I promised myself I would do absolutely nothing for a week while I waited for my friends Jean Snuggs and Lyndell Wilken who were going to bicycle around Nova Scotia with me. It almost worked— and would have except for two things. One, I had a responsibility to catch mosquitos with my hands and squash them before they landed on me and started to suck my blood. Given how numerous and hungry they were, I pursued this responsibility with passion.

Second, I discovered David Eddings’ series of five fantasy books on the Belgariad in a small bookshop a few miles from my camp. I’d picked up the first one and become hooked. I found I could hold a book in my left hand while squashing mosquitos with my right. Needless to say, the days passed quickly and soon Jean and Lyndell had arrived at my campsite, smiling and eager to catch the ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, which we did. Since our goal was to bike the northern part of the Province, we took a bus into Halifax. The Canadian part of my bicycling adventure was about to begin.

Ferry terminal entry in Yarmouth Nova Scotia.

The entry to the ferry terminal in Yarmouth.

Crab fishing is important off of Nova Scotia and there must be thousands of crab traps such as this in Yarmouth.

Crab fishing is important off of Nova Scotia and there must be thousands of crab traps such as this in Yarmouth.

Peggy makes herself at home on furniture made out of crab traps next to a restaurant where we had dined on crab.

Peggy makes herself at home on furniture made out of crab traps next to a restaurant where we had dined on crab.

Salvation Army building in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Yarmouth has done a good job of renovating historical buildings. This may be the fanciest Salvation Army Thrift Store I have ever seen. It is next to the Consulate building I featured at the beginning of the post.

More fun buildings in Yarmouth.

More fun and colorful buildings in Yarmouth.

This mural featured a number of inhabitants in the town.

This mural featured a number of inhabitants in the town.

While my bike journey took us southeast toward Halifax, Peggy and I also explored the west coast of Nova Scotia along what is known as the Evangeline Trail. A number of impressive catholic Churches reflect the French Acadian history of the area.

While my bike journey took us southeast toward Halifax, Peggy and I also explored the west coast of Nova Scotia along what is known as the Evangeline Trail. A number of impressive Catholic Churches reflect the French Acadian history of the area. The road, which travels along the Bay of Fundy, noted for its extreme tides, is well worth a side trip.

We found this mysterious 'road less traveled' along the Evangeline Trail.

We found this mysterious ‘road less traveled’ along the Evangeline Trail.

And this impressive Catkin.

And this impressive Catkin.

Back on track, following the coast south out of Yarmouth, we came on this unusual Anglican Church, which represented Nova Scotia's English heritage for me.

Back on track, following the coast south out of Yarmouth, we came on this unusual Anglican Church, which represented Nova Scotia’s English heritage for me.

A small lake near Halifax provided a sunset shot...

A small lake near Halifax provided a sunset shot…

A small lake just west of Halifax provided this reflection shot...

…And a late evening view, which is an appropriate place to end today’s post.

NEXT BLOG: Bicycling north from Halifax toward Cape Breton Island.

 

A Foggy Day in Shenandoah National Park… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Regulations on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive understandably recommend that bicyclists not travel on foggy days. The fog does present some good photo ops, however.

Regulations on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive understandably recommend that bicyclists not travel on foggy days. The fog does present some good photo ops, however.

 

“Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you/Away you rolling River/Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you/Away, I’m bound away/Cross the wide Missouri.”

There are songs that you hear as a child that bury themselves deep in your brain and are forever being replayed. Oh Shenandoah was one such song for me. It had a yearning that even my 9-year-old soul understood. I longed to see the Shenandoah River, and return to it— even though I had never been there.

It isn’t surprising then that Shenandoah became my song of the day as I wrapped up my bike tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway and entered Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park. I often sang on my bike. It helped wile away the hours. But this time I sang with the same longing I had felt as a fourth grader.

Peggy and I woke up to a foggy morning on our last day of retracing my bike route along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was glad I wasn't riding my bike.

Visibility can be a real issue when the fog sets in for bicyclists as well as motorists.

A pine tree stands out in the fog along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

But fog has a way of shrouding everything in mystery.

Skyline Drive provides the same beauty, lack of commercial traffic and slow speed limit as found on the Blue Ridge Parkway, without the severe ups and downs.

Skyline Drive starts where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends when you are riding south to north. It provides the same beauty, lack of commercial traffic, and slow speed limit as found on the Parkway, without as many ups and downs.

Dogwood in fog along Skyline Drive in Virginia.

Distant vistas disappear in the fog. The traveller is left with views closer to the road…

A tree of dogwood blooming along the Skyline Drive in Virginia.

That bring their own beauty…

Trees along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

With a different perspective.

Pine needles provided an interesting pattern in the fog.

The grey backdrop made these pine needles stand out.

Not sure what these flowers were, but I found their green hue appealing.

Fog or not, I always like close-ups. The yellow-green hue of these flowers, and their abundance, caught my attention.

Tree lichens caught the attention of my camera.

Lichens are always worth a closer look..

Riding along the Skyline wasn’t enough for me, however. Oh Shenandoah was about the river and I had to see it! I reached US Highway 33 and made a snap decision. Instead of following Skyline Drive the rest of the way to Front Royal, Virginia, I would turn left and drop down into the Shenandoah Valley where I could sing to the river. And that is what I did. In Elkton, I picked up US 340 and followed it along the south fork of the Shenandoah River to Front Royal.

A cow and her calf welcomed me to the Shenandoah Valley.

Peggy and I followed the same route in our van as we retraced my route. A cow and her calf welcomed us to the Shenandoah Valley.

Welcome sign to Shenandoah.

As did this sign.

As this pasture land demonstrates.

Spring was bursting out all over!

This old fireplace was all that remained of an earlier Shenandoah Valley home.

This old fireplace was all that remained of an earlier Shenandoah Valley home. It isn’t unusual to find fireplaces standing alone, the one thing that wouldn’t burn when pioneers lost their homes to fires. This one would have gone with a large home.

And yes, I did find the Shenandoah River with its mountain backdrop.

And yes, I did find the Shenandoah River with its mountain backdrop.

From Front Royal I biked on to Winchester where a billboard announced I was entering Patsy Cline’s hometown. I had another decision to make, this one more dramatic than my quick decision to check out the Shenandoah River. I had been bicycling for three months and I needed a break. A friend was supposed to meet me in two weeks in Maine and join me in bicycling through Nova Scotia. I could make it, just barely, maybe. But I would have to push hard through urban areas with urban traffic. Finally, I had developed a sore on my inner thigh in Mississippi and a sore on your inner thigh when you are bicycling is not a good thing. It would not go away.

Old Town in Winchester Virginia has bee turned into a pleasant and attractive auto-free zone. Patsy Cline would recognize the buildings.

Old Town in Winchester, Virginia has been turned into a pleasant and attractive auto-free zone. I think that Patsy Cline would like it..

So I decided to become good friends with the Dog. I would take the Greyhound from Winchester up though Washington DC, New York City, Boston and New England to Bangor, Maine. It would drop the total distance of my trip to around 10,000 miles, but I could live with that— and I would have a two-week break.

Next Blog: I make it to Maine and begin my exploration of Nova Scotia.

Back When Having a Baby Cost Six Bucks… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Mary Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I continued my roller coaster ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway as I crossed into Virginia. The highlands weren’t as high but the lowlands were lower so my overall impression of the Parkway didn’t change. I was growing more used to the ups and downs, however. I won’t say I didn’t notice them— the 6000-foot elevation change involved in dropping into and climbing out of the James River guaranteed that, but the beauty of the ride, combined with the interesting history, was enough to divert my mind away from the work my legs, lungs and heart were doing.

View of Blue Ridge Mountains and meadow along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The beauty of the Parkway helped me forget I spent much of my time bicycling up mountains.

Dramatic clouds along the Parkway added to the scenery.

Dramatic clouds along the Parkway added to the scenery.

Tree silhouette backed up by clouds on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

This tree silhouette also caught my attention.

Bridge on the the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Man made structures such as this double arched bridge also add to the beauty.

Besides, the only person that I had to complain to about the difficulty of the climbs was myself, and he’s a stickler for pointing out that I am responsible for 99.9% of the difficulties I get into. You would think he would be more sympathetic, maybe even lie a little. But noooo, he has to be disturbingly honest.

Plus, there was Orlena Puckett. She put things into perspective. There is a sign next to her sister’s cabin on the Parkway. Orlena was born in 1837 and spent the first 50 years of her life trying to have children. She actually had 24, but they all died, most in stillbirth. Given everything I’ve ever heard about the pain involved in having a baby, I would have sworn off sex after the first three.

The Plackets cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The Puckett’s cabin.

Orlena spent the second 50 years of her life as a midwife, helping other women have children. She is said to have delivered some 1,000, the last when she was 102. The tools of her trade were soap, water, and a nip of whiskey. When times were good, she charged six dollars; when they were bad, one— or a few chickens. Legend has it she would drive nails through her shoes in winter so she could travel over icy trails to help women who needed her services. Imagine that with today’s medical care system, even a nip of whiskey would cost $100!

This photo of Orlena, looking 102 and holding the last child she helped be born, is next to her sister's cabin.

This photo of Orlena, looking 102 and holding the last child she helped deliver, is on display next to her sister’s cabin.

Groundhog Hill is located a couple of miles away from the cabin. I am assuming there were a lot of them there. They were also called whistle pigs, which I get. I’ve often encountered their marmot cousins in western mountain meadows. These large, fat squirrels whistle at you in irritation when you disturb their afternoon naps in late August. They’ve chowed down all summer so they can sleep all winter. Folklore tells us that groundhogs appear on February 2 to predict how long winter will last. (This custom originated with European badgers, who, as far as I know, would consider it great luck to find a tasty groundhog out and about on February 2, regardless of whether you could see its shadow or not.)

Today, Groundhog Hill is topped off by a fort-like looking structure that the forest service once used for spotting fires. The area also features the various types of chestnut split-rail fences the pioneers used to keep their cattle from wandering off and being eaten by bears.

The Groundhog Mountain fire lookout tower on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The Groundhog Mountain fire lookout tower with a dramatic display of clouds.

Groundhog Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Peggy caught this photo with clouds, a dogwood tree, and two of the fence types. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Pioneer fence on display at Groundhog Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

We saw this type of fence on the Natchez Trace as well. Easily constructed, it requires no fence posts.

Fence at Groundhog Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The fourth type of pioneer fence on display at Groundhog Mountain.

Further along, I came to Mabry Mill (featured at the top of the post), said to be the most photographed site on the Parkway. It is quite striking in its pond setting. The water wheel driven mill was built by Ed Mabry in the early 1900s and served as both a gristmill and a sawmill. During the summer months now, park volunteers offer demonstrations on a number of pioneer crafts practiced in the area. It’s a busy place. Several hundred thousand people stop by to visit each year.

The 13 mile ride downhill to the James River was quite a thrill; I practiced not using my brakes. When I passed an auto, I decided it was time to slow down. At the bottom, I stopped to admire the river. At 649 feet, it is the lowest spot on the Parkway. Further east, Virginia slaves once toiled on farms along the river producing what was considered some of the finest tobacco of the time. I first heard about it when I was backpacking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and had stopped at a Fur Rendezvous site where early traders bought beaver pelts from mountain men.

The James River tobacco had been an important trade item. The mountain men smoked it on lonely winter nights when they were back in their trapping cabins. Lower quality tobaccos were mixed with whiskey in cooking kettles and consumed on the spot, out of the kettles. Drunken debauchery is a fairly good description of the results. Early journals described a rabid wolf wandering through camp and biting people at will. Another image that stuck in my mind was a group of men using a dead man as a poker table. Now it will probably be stuck in your mind as well. (Grin)

Reflection shot of the James River as see from the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge.

The James River looking calm on a cloudy day.

Otter Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Pretty little Otter Lake is just a couple of miles beyond the James River going north on the Parkway.

Spillway to Otter Lake along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The spillway for Otter Lake is also quite picturesque.

Otter lake spillway along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Another perspective of the spillway.

Otter Creek along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Otter Creek below the spillway.

Further up the Parkway, the historic remnants of the Irish Creek narrow gauge railway caught my interest. Logging had once been the dominant industry of the region until most of the virgin forests had been cut down. Over 100-million board feet of lumber had passed over the Irish Creek line alone. My dad had worked as the electrician for a lumber company that had a narrow gauge railroad when I was a child. I remember watching the long trains of logs come rolling into town. I’d stand by the tracks with my friends and wave at the engineers. On a good day, they would throw candy out the window to us.

Railroad bridge for the Irish Creek railroad found along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Bridge on the Irish Creek narrow gauge railroad. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Irish Creek Railroad next to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The Irish Creek Railroad.

Small creek along the Irish Creek Railroad next the the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

A final view of the small creek.

Next Blog: We’ll say goodbye to the Blue Ridge Parkway and head into Shenandoah National Park on the Skyline Drive.

Things that Go Bump in the Night… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

I decided that my title today called for this 'ghost tree' I found along the Parkway. Imagine it at night with a full moon behind it and a black cat sitting on the lower branch.

I decided that my title today called for this ‘ghost tree’ I found along the Parkway. Imagine the tree at night with a full moon behind it and a black cat sitting on the lower branch.

 

From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-legged beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us! —An old Scottish Prayer

Having spent a considerable amount of time out in the woods at night, including a fair amount by myself, I’ve had my share of nighttime encounters. To say they can be disconcerting is understatement at its best. Even a cow walking through your camp can send your heart racing when you wake up from a deep sleep.

I’ve written about some of my encounters before. Why not? They make great blog material. For example, there was the time I found myself nervously loading a 357-magnum pistol because I had heard a loud bang outside my tent. A doctor friend had insisted I carry his gun in backcountry Alaska. I was damned lucky I didn’t shoot myself in the foot. I was amused (or was that embarrassed) to discover it was only a beaver that had slapped its tail against the water. He had discovered me in his territory and was protesting.

And then there was the time I woke up with a bear standing on me, his snout inches away from mine. I screamed. So much for being manly. Truth is, the smallest twig cracking out in the dark night can lead brave souls to become hyper-alert, or maybe just hyper.

Camping out in the woods away from established campgrounds on my bike trip added another level of concern, being faced with the most dangerous animal of all— the two-legged type. I’ll take a bear anytime. Breaking twigs in the night become even more menacing. As I mentioned before, I was always careful to select a place where I was hidden from the road, or any other human observation, as far as that goes.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has a policy on not camping outside of designated campgrounds. For the most part this isn’t a problem, but I had decided to have my bike tuned in Asheville and didn’t get out of the town until late in the afternoon. (Having learned my lesson on dark tunnels, I had also bought a new bike light.) A considerable hill outside of Asheville had slowed me down, and the sun had started to slip behind a mountain.

Being tired and a bit grumpy, I decided a couple of hours of bicycling were sufficient. So I pulled off the road and went looking for a flat spot in the steep terrain, one that wouldn’t have me rolling down hill all night. Eventually I found a place that was only slightly askew. There was just enough room for my tent. Blue, my bike, had to be satisfied with leaning against a tree. Tossing and turning because a rock insisted on poking me in the back, it took a while to fall asleep.

Having crested one long climb with an even longer one ahead, I decided to camp out in the woods. The steep terrain made finding a flat spot difficult.

Having crested one long climb with an even longer one ahead, I decided to camp out in the woods. Finding a flat spot other than the road was the challenge.

I woke up to someone/thing stamping outside my tent. Make that several things. I am sure you can see where this might be a bit alarming. I lay there wondering whether I should jump out of my tent or pretend that no one was home. Sometimes ignored problems go away. Sometimes they don’t. I had decided on the latter course when the problem started hissing. Stamping is one thing; hissing is another. Had the Appalachian ghosts of Tom Dooley and his mistresses come to haunt me?

This sign along the Parkway describes the origin of the Kingston Trio Song, "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley."

This sign along the Parkway describes the origin of the Kingston Trio Song, “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley.” Their song was the PG version, however. Tom was living with a much older guy who had a younger wife. With mutual consent from all parties, Tom started sleeping with the wife. When a cousin of the wife showed up, he added her to the mix, often at the same time. Another cousin appeared on the scene and Tom once more sacrificed himself for the good of all. She brought syphilis into the mix, however. Eventually, one of the cousins killed another one with Tom’s help. Being a gentleman, Tom confessed to the murder and she went free. Tom was hung. At least I think that’s how it went. I became distracted with the appearance of the first cousin. Undoubtedly, the event left some ghosts hanging around.

This was the point where I started wishing my backpacking flashlight had a ton more of candle power. I unzipped my tent and pointed the dim light up the hill where several large things went crashing off into the brush. There’s a point here. It is always better to have large things crashing away from you instead of toward you, even more so on a dark night. Anyway, I recognized the thump, thump, thump as they disappeared. A herd of several deer had discovered my hiding place, and like the beaver, been surprised and irritated. I had simply never heard deer do their stamping and hissing routine before. (I have since.)

I went back to sleep, woke up refreshed (sort of), and resumed my journey. Today’s blog photos along the Blue Ridge Parkway will take you from Asheville to Little Glade Mill Pond, a distance of approximately 170 miles. Enjoy.

The ultra modern Park Headquarters in Asheville includes all of the latest environmental friendly designs, including plants growing on the roof.

The ultra modern Park Headquarters in Asheville includes all of the latest environmental friendly designs, including plants growing on the roof.

Bike sculpture in Blue Ridge Park Headquarters, Asheville, North Carolina.

I enjoyed the bike sculpture at the headquarters.

My first stop the next day was at the Craggy Garden's Visitor's Center. It's high location provided a great scenic view of the Black Mountains. The fence was a plus.

My first stop the next day was at the Craggy Garden’s Visitor’s Center. Its high location provided a scenic view of the Black Mountains. The fence was a plus.When I bicycled through the area in June of 1989, the area was covered with blooming Rhododendrons. Peggy and I were too early for the display on our redrive of the route this spring.

Dandelions had no problem with spring. Peggy and I found them happily blooming away throughout our trip.

Dandelions had no problems with spring. They were happily blooming away throughout our trip.

Peggy insisted on buying me a neckerchief at the Visitor's Center, which featured biking the Parkway.

Peggy insisted on buying me a neckerchief at the Visitor’s Center. It featured biking the Parkway. Like the bushy look? I was honoring my bike trek where I had three haircuts in six months.

One of numerous tunnels along the Parkway. I found the stone work quite beautiful. Sone masons from Europe were brought in during the 1930s to help.

One of numerous tunnels along the Parkway. I found the stone work quite appealing. Stone masons from Europe were brought in during the 1930s to help.

This is the twin to the tree I featured at the beginning of the blog.

This is the twin to the tree I featured at the beginning of the blog. It was actually standing next to the other tree.

Dogwood is another plant that enjoys spring and was blooming in profusion all the way along the Parkway.

Dogwood is another plant that enjoys spring and was blooming in profusion all the way along the Parkway.

A close up of the dogwood.

A close up of the dogwood complete with beetle.

Dogwood on Blue Ridge Parkway with butterfly.

And a  butterfly.

Jesse Brown's cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Peggy provides perspective on Jesse Brown’s pioneer cabin.

Cool Spring's Batist Church on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Cool Spring’s Baptist Church was next door to Jesse Brown’s cabin. Usually, services were held outdoors. There wasn’t much difference.

And the cool spring.

And the cool spring. The wooden channel carries water into the spring house.

I doubt the early pioneers would have seen this Scottish cow in the mountains.

I doubt the early pioneers would have seen this Scottish bull in the mountains.

Apple tree on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Apple trees, on the other hand, were quite common. Hard cider was a pioneer staple.

Farm on Blue Ridge Parkway.

Farm lands add as much to the beauty to the Parkway as forests and mountains.

Little Glade Mill Pond on the Blue Ridge Highway.

Little Glade Mill Pond provides a great lunch stop. While Peggy whipped up sandwiches, I hiked around the pond.

Reflection shot on Little Glade Mill Pond on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Naturally, I had to focus on the reflection shots. Our van is off to the right. Lunch is being prepared! Breakfast is my responsibility.

I'll complete today's post with this final shot of Little Glade Mill Pond. Next Blog: We'll continue out journey along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.

I’ll complete today’s post with this final shot of Little Glade Mill Pond. Next Blog: We’ll continue out journey along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

 

 

48,722 Feet of Climbing on the Blue Ridge Parkway… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Every turn in the road on the Blue Ridge Parkway brings gorgeous views. Some are in distant vistas but many are up close and personal, like these two trees.

Every turn in the road on the Blue Ridge Parkway brings gorgeous views into sight. Some are in distant vistas but many are up close and personal, like these two trees.

There are two primary directions on the Blue Ridge Parkway: up and down. It’s a good thing I had gotten used to this idea while crossing the Cumberland Plateau and the Smokies because as soon as I passed the entrance sign to the Parkway, I started climbing. I quickly got used to the idea that I would be granny-gear-crawling my way up a mountain for 3-4 hours followed by a glorious 30-minute downhill run, followed by another 3-4 hours of climbing. If it wasn’t always like that, it certainly felt like it.

I took this graphic from the book by Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner featured below.

I took this graph from the book by Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner featured below. It represents about half of my first day of cycling the Parkway, starting at the Southern Terminus on the right. I thought it did a good job of summarizing my perspective on the climb.

The elevation change reflected by these ups and downs is impressive. In one week I would climb 48,722 feet and drop a similar amount, having an elevation gain and loss of over 97,000 feet! (I was amused by the Parkway’s specific claim of elevation gain right down to 22 feet. It definitely represents a biker or hiker’s perspective. Those 22 feet are important.)

It could have been worse.  Remember, in my last post, I mentioned that the Appalachians were much higher in their youth. Think 40,000 feet tall (12,192 Meters), 10,000 feet higher than Mt. Everest. The air would have been a bit thin up on top for cycling but can you imagine the downhill run! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

Other than the ups and downs, or maybe because of them (grin), the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the premier destinations for bicyclists in the US. Like the Natchez Trace, there is great beauty and no commercial traffic. An added plus for the Blue Ridge is that the speed limit for vehicles is even lower than the Trace, 45 MPH (72.4 K) as compared to 55 MPH (88.5 K).

The number of T-shirts, scarves, patches, bumper strips and other memorabilia you can buy that feature bicycling on the Parkway speaks to its popularity today. There are also detailed brochures, maps and books to help you plan your trip, not to mention the Internet. It wasn’t always so. In 1989, the National Park Service gave me a mimeographed sheet. I didn’t see another bicycle tourist until I was close to the end of my 469-mile trip in Virginia.

The mimeographed sheet on bicycling the Blue Ridge Highway that the National Park Service handed out to me in 1989

The mimeographed sheet on bicycling the Blue Ridge Highway that the National Park Service handed out to me in 1989.

This information packed book by Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner is the type of information you can find today on cycling the Parkway.

This information packed book by Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner is the type of information you can find today on cycling the Parkway.

The final segment of the Parkway was finished in 1987, only two years earlier than my trip. Its inception dates back to the 1930s, however, when a number of people including Franklin Roosevelt and Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia decided that a parkway connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina was a good idea. (Byrd, BTW, served in the US Senate from 1933 to 1965. His son succeeded him in his seat and held the position until 1982, giving the Byrds 50 continuous years in the Senate.)

My next four posts will cover my journey over the Blue Ridge Highway and be more in the nature of photographic essays. Photos will be from the trip Peggy and I took this spring. Today, I am covering the section between Cherokee and Ashville, North Carolina. Next Blog: A creature comes to visit me in the night.

When biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can start in the north, in the south, or at several points along the way. Wherever, you will be greeted by this sign.

When biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can start in the north, in the south, or at several points along the way. Wherever, you will be greeted by this sign.

The Blue Ridge Mountains provide numerous opportunities to pull off the road and admire the scenery. Plot was an early pioneer who became famous for breeding bear hunting dogs. Once, according to legend, his dogs cornered a bear in a small cave. Lott went in after the bear with his knife. He won the encounter but the bear clawed him extensively. It was the last time Lott went after a bear with his knife.

The Blue Ridge Mountains provide numerous opportunities to pull off the road and admire the scenery. Plott was an early pioneer who became famous for breeding bear hunting dogs. Once, according to legend, his dogs cornered a bear in a small cave. Lott went in after the bear with his knife. He won the encounter but learned that chasing after bears with a knife is not a good idea.

On the higer parts of the Parkway, flowers were just starting to come out.

On the higher parts of the Parkway, flowers were just starting to bloom.

This photo reflects how the Blue Ridge Mountains obtained their name.

I like this photo because it reflects for me how blue ridge after blue ridge after blue ridge gave the Blue Ridge Mountains their name.

A tunnel of trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway leafing out in early spring green.

A tunnel of trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway leafing out in early spring green. Dogwood is blooming along the left side.

Some of the canyons along the Parkway were filled with blooming dogwood.

Some of the canyons along the Parkway were filled with blooming dogwood.

And highway tunnels. There are 26 along the Blue Ridge Parkway ranging in length from 150 feet to 1434 feet.

Twin highway tunnels. There are 26 tunnels along the Blue Ridge Parkway ranging in length from 150 feet to 1434 feet. Bicycling through them can be a bit scary, especially the longer tunnels. Going through the 1434 feet Pine Mountain Tunnel, my light chose to die, leaving me in the pitch dark. I immediately climbed off my bike, blindly found the right side of the tunnel, and walked the bike until I could see again. As you can see, there is no shoulder. Fortunately no cars came along.

The lights from our van lit up the tunnel. Imagine your perspective from a bicycle. This was one time when I was ever so glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The lights from our van lit up the tunnel. Imagine your perspective from a bicycle. Pushing my bike with no lights at all, I was ever so glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I climbed to the highest elevation along the Parkway on my first day out. I celebrated by thinking 'well, that's behind me.'

I climbed to the highest elevation along the Parkway on my first day out. I celebrated by thinking ‘well, that’s behind me.’

More fun going down than up!

More fun going down than up!

They call this outcrop the Devils Courthouse but I was hardput to see much that was devilish about it. Maybe on a foggy day...

They call this outcrop the Devils Courthouse but I was hard put to see much that was devilish about it. Maybe on a foggy day…

Looking Glass Rock was once a giant pluton of molten volcano rock located far under the surface. Early morning light reflects off of the rock, giving it the name.

Looking Glass Rock on the right was once a giant pluton of molten volcano rock located far under the surface. Light reflects off of the rock, giving it the name. This time, the sun chose to light up the trees in the foreground instead.

I'll conclude today's section of the Blue Ridge Parkway with this impressive road cut.

I’ll conclude today’s section of the Blue Ridge Parkway with this impressive road cut.

 

 

 

Bicycling across Great Smoky Mountains National Park… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Great Smoky Mountains National Park waterfall in North Carolina.

In addition to its tree covered mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is noted for its beautiful waterfalls. Peggy and I found this little beauty next to the road on the east side of the Park.

 

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS

I can’t imagine a future without wild places for our children, grandchildren and future generations to love and explore. Preserving our wilderness areas and the diversity of life on earth are two of the most important responsibilities we have as humans.

A few years ago, Peggy and I took time off to visit America’s National Parks from Alaska to Florida. It was an incredible trip. The beauty and variety of landscapes, plants and animals found in these parks are a gift of incalculable value. As are all the wild places set aside by other countries.

Given that this week is America’s 100th Anniversary of its National Park system, it seems appropriate that I am writing today about my bike ride through (make that up and over) Great Smoky National Park. (And yes, smoky is how it is spelled.) With over nine million visitors this past year, it is America’s most visited park.

First, of course, I had to get there. In the last post about my bike tour of North America, I was in Dayton, Tennessee checking out the courthouse where the Scopes’ trial took place. I left there continuing to follow Route 30 east as it made its steep, winding way up and over ridges of the Cumberland Plateau. In Athens, Tennessee, I picked up an even smaller road, Route 39, that carried me over another ridge into the small community of Englewood.

Mural depicting the historic town of Englewood in eastern Tennessee.

This mural of historic Englewood is prominently featured on the side of a building entering town.

From here, it was time to make my way north over the relatively flat Highway 411 to Maryville. Bucolic countryside, Mennonite farms, a humorous Spit and Whittle Club, and the Little Tennessee River provided pleasant distractions from the work of bicycling. As I left Maryville on Highway 321 going toward Pigeon Ford, the countryside shifted dramatically, providing scenic views of the Smokies. The road from Pigeon Ford to Gatlinburg, Highway 441, was all about separating tourists from their dollars. I’ve rarely seen such a concentration of “tourist attractions.” Today, there are eight different Ripley’s venues alone— “believe it or not!”

This Mennonite farmer was apparently out enjoying his/her farm.

This Mennonite farmer was apparently out enjoying his/her farm since I didn’t see any work going on.

Spit and Whittle Clubs, sometimes know as Liar's Clubs, can be found throughout the US. In general, their members are story tellers who focus on 'tall tales.' I expect that this is one of their most unusual club houses!

Spit and Whittle Clubs, sometimes know as Liar’s Clubs, can be found throughout the US. In general, their members are story tellers who focus on ‘tall tales.’ I expect that this is one of their most unusual club houses!

Little Tennessee River flowing through eastern Tennessee.

Highway 411 took me across the Little Tennessee River, which didn’t seem so little to me.

The Great Smoky Mountains can be seen in the distance as you leave Maryville, Tennessee on Highway 312.

The Great Smoky Mountains can be seen in the distance as you leave Maryville, Tennessee on Highway 321.

I spent the night in Gatlinburg, not because I wanted to sample the attractions, but because I wanted to develop the proper mental attitude I would need for climbing 4000 feet in the morning to Newfound Gap at 5046 feet (1538 meters). Two beers and a steak just about did it.

The Smokies, as they are often called, received their name from a blue haze early pioneers found hovering over the mountains. It wasn’t actually caused by smoke, however, it was caused by plant respiration (breathing, so to speak). The park is part of the Appalachian Mountains, an ancient range going back some 250-300 million years. (Some rocks in the area date back over a billion years.) Compare that with the Rocky Mountains at 80-85 million years and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a mere baby at 40 million. Once, the Smokies reached for the sky like their younger western cousins; now they are old and worn down. This doesn’t make them less steep; ask any hiker or biker who wanders through them. Nor does it make them any less beautiful.

The 17-mile trip up to the Gap was, as I expected, a workout. People shouted encouragement from their cars on some of the steeper parts. I grunted in return. At one stop a little kid looked at me wide-eyed. “Are you really bicycling to the top?” “Sure,” I replied. “It’s fun. Maybe you will do it some day.” “Maybe not,” he responded. I passed the Appalachian Trail and thought of the hikers making their way north on a journey far different from mine but similar in its challenge. And I entered North Carolina, leaving Tennessee behind. After a leisurely lunch on top, it was time to zoom down the mountain, a thrill I had earned. Following are some photos that I took when Peggy and I redrove the route though the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this spring.

View of Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Peggy and I drove across the Smokies a month earlier than  when I biked across them in 1989. A number of trees had yet to leaf out.

Tree in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in early spring.

By June this tree would be dressed in green. I am not sure who the round nest on the right belongs to. Or if it is even a nest.

I liked this canyon view.

I liked this canyon view.

This stream kept me company as I biked up the mountain.

This stream kept me company as I biked up the mountain. At one point I had stopped and dangled my toes in its refreshing water.

Because the road over the mountain is so steep and filled with traffic, the National Park recommends that people not bicycle on it.

Because the road over the mountain is so steep and filled with traffic, the park recommends that people not bicycle on it. Naturally, I caught a section of the road that was car free and had a decent shoulder.

Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina.

This small waterfall was part of the same stream I placed at the top of the post.

I flew past the turn off that marks the southern beginning of the Blue Ridge Highway and into Cherokee, headquarters for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. I remember two things about my 1989 stop in Cherokee. One was that the town seemed economically depressed. The second was a bear in a cage. I felt sorry for it. The Smokies are known for having the largest concentration of black bears in the East. The caged bear would have been much happier running around in the woods with them.

The town seems much healthier now, largely thanks to the Harrah’s-Cherokee Hotel and Casino. It draws several million visitors (and their money) into Cherokee annually. As for the bear, I didn’t see it. Instead, brightly painted bear sculptures were found throughout the community representing, for the most part, Cherokee themes. A large, carved wooden sculpture of a Cherokee stands in front of the community’s administrative center. Three tears are streaming down his face— a memorial to the Trail of Tears where the Cherokee were forced off their homeland and marched to Oklahoma so white settlers could take their property.

Wood sculpture of a crying Cherokee representing the Trail of Tears in Cherokee, North Carolina.

The wood sculpture of a crying Cherokee.

Bear sculpture located in Cherokee, North Carolina.

This bear featured a scenic painting with an elk and an eagle or hawk.

I found this scene on another bear, representing the region in historic times

I found this scene on another bear, representing the region in earlier times.

Bear sculpture painted to resemble eagle in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Another rendition of a bald eagle. I liked how the artist turned the nose of the bear into the beak of the eagle. An eagle shaman dances on the rear hindquarters.

Bear sculpture in Cherokee, North Carolina

This bear was decorated with symbols you might expect to find on Native American rock art.

Bear sculpture in Cherokee, North Carolina smoking pie and dressed like an artist.

And, for my final photo today, a little humor.

NEXT BLOG: I ride back up the road from Cherokee to the Blue Ridge Highway entrance and begin my journey north toward Maine and Nova Scotia.

A Trip to the Cannabis Fair? What??? No Way!

I didn't expect to find George at the fair.

I didn’t know what type of things I would find at the Cannabis Fair, but a painting of George standing in the middle of a marijuana farm and glowing green wasn’t one of them.

 

Occasionally, I slip in a blog that is outside of my 10,000-mile bicycle trek series. Today we are going to a cannabis fair…

So here I was on Saturday morning, staring out our windows at the mountains, listening to the morning news on TV, and wondering what I was going to do with my day. Peggy was back East playing with the kids and grandkids. I had just put up my post on the Scopes Trial, responded to all my comments, and checked in on the people I follow. I was actually caught up on blogging, a rare occasion— as most of you bloggers will recognize.

The weather person was predicting a 110° F degree-day. Playing or working outside wasn’t an option and I had completed most of my indoor chores. In fact, I had just pushed Robota’s button (Robota is our iRobot vacuum cleaner), and she was charging around, sucking up dirt, and cleaning rugs and floors. She’d return to her dock and plug-in when she needed recharging. I do wish she would learn to clean out her dirt bin, though. It’s such a bother; I could use the two minutes for something else… (Grin)

In other words, I had time on my hands. What’s a fellow to do? That’s when the local television anchor announced that the Cannabis Fair was being held at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in the main exhibit hall. Now I love fairs, and I have been seriously deprived this year (if you don’t count the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, Alaska and the International Ice Carving contest in Fairbanks). We missed the local Jackson County Fair because we had to go to Sacramento and arrived in Sacramento just as the California State Fair ended. To top off this tale of woe, I am taking a break from Burning Man.

But go to the Cannabis Fair and blog about it? No way! What would people think? And then I thought, why not. Marijuana is now legal in Oregon. In fact, I voted for the measure to legalize it. The majority of Americans support the idea. Why? One reason is that prohibition doesn’t work; it never has. Look at what happened with alcohol in the 1920s. If people wanted a drink, they found it. The main result of the Prohibition was the creation of the American Mafia. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas provides an excellent history of how it happened.

A similar thing happened with marijuana. Smoking a joint in the 1950s could lead to a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of $20,000— for a first time offender. Did this stop marijuana use? Remember the 60s? I do, vaguely (kidding). Our demand for marijuana, combined with laws against cultivation, led to its illegal production. What a surprise. Millions, and even billions of dollars were to be made. Drug cartels sprang up like weeds outside of the US to supply us. Tragically, thousands have been killed and whole political systems corrupted as a result. Here, billions of tax dollars (that is your money and mine) have gone into creating large government agencies that haven’t made a dent in the flow of pot.

Maybe the billions we spent on trying to suppress marijuana would be worth it, if the drug were the devil it was portrayed to be in Reefer Madness and other such anti-pot campaigns. But the truth is— it isn’t. The negative physical and social impacts are no worse than alcohol, and may indeed be less. A growing body of evidence suggests that a number medical benefits derive from cannabis. Contrast this with the health effects of tobacco. Numerous states have passed laws making medical marijuana use legal. And several have now made it legal for recreational use as well.

Cloth hanging art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jacksonville County, Oregon.

I am not sure what the artist had in mind with this cloth hanging I found at the Fair, but I thought it provided a good perspective on how people view the effects of marijuana. On the left is the perspective of the cannabis industry, the pro-legalization forces and most users. On the right is how those who support the Reefer Madness point of view see it.

But it’s time to climb down off my soapbox (sort of). We have a fair to go to! I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to find. Let me start with noting there were no pigs, or goats, or bunny rabbits— the usual reasons I go to a fair. This was a serious endeavor. Pot growing is big business for small farms in my neck of the woods. Six are visible along the 30-mile road between where I live on the Applegate River and Medford. They hardly blend in.

The law requires that marijuana farmers put their crops behind 8-foot fences if they are located within 150 feet of the highway, supposedly to protect children from seeing them. Instead the fences serve as huge billboards that scream: WE GROW POT! If you can find a six-year-old in Jackson County that doesn’t know what is happening behind those fences, I’d be surprised. And you can bet they are much more intrigued by the hidden marijuana than they would be if the plants were simply grown out in the open like any other crop. Plus the fences are butt-ugly.

Marijuana farms that are visible from the road in Oregon, are required to be surrounded by 8-foot fences.

This fence, legally required by Oregon law to conceal a cannabis farm, is about a mile away from my house.

I wandered around from booth to booth at the fair, taking photos for my blog (after asking permission) and chatting with folks tending the booths. There was potting soil and pot pots. There were salves and seeds. There were lawyers and accountants and security specialists and equipment sales people. One man was offering a bud trimmer for $300 that looked like a combination of an electric razor and a mini-hedge trimmer. He provided a demonstration. Bzzzzzz! I could picture him at a cannabis shop saying, “This Bud’s for you.”

Pots for growing marijuana on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I couldn’t help but think pot pots when I saw these. And please note: they are made in the USA.

And of course you need potting soil for pot pots.

And of course you need premium potting soil for pot pots. What better than Cloud 9, Zen Blend, and Gaia’s Gift?

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of string that have been developed, all with different strengths, and if you accept the literature, different qualities.

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of strains that have been developed, all with different strengths, and, if you accept the literature, qualities.I wonder which one will give me an irresistible craving for ice cream?

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as this magical butter makers. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain the results, and you are ready to make cookies!

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as these magical butter pots. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain, and you are ready to make cookies!

I wandered into a dome tent set up by Pacific Domes. It reminded me of the structures at Burning Man. Even some of the wall hangings seemed familiar. And there was the painting of George Washington enjoying a pipe I featured at the top of the blog. Robert, the account executive, told me that a lot of their tents do make it to Burning Man. I asked him how they handled the windstorms. “They are designed to withstand gusts up to 8o miles per hour,” he told me.

A dome tent from the Pacific Dome company on display at Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Both domed tents and greenhouses were promoted at the fair for growing marijuana.

Dome tent for growing cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The tent was appropriately camouflaged.

Cannabis art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The wall hangings in the tent reminded me very much of Burning Man, although you don’t flaunt marijuana use in Black Rock City. The event is crawling with law enforcement people happy to bust you.

All types of pipes were available for smoking, some even glowed in the dark under a black light. The folks at Bayshore Smoking Glass from Coos Bay broke out several for me to photograph. Some of the pipes were quite attractive, and some were downright funny. How would you like your pot pipe to look like an octopus?

Cannabis pipes for smoking marijuana found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I found the variety of pipes fun. What can I say. An incredible amount of creativity goes in to producing them.

A variety of pipes for smoking marijuana at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

This one even glowed when placed under a black light.

This one even glowed in the dark.

"Living the Pipe Dreams" cannabis pipes on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Dianne told me I could photograph her art work if I put her card in the picture.

Bongs for smoking cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I also found these bongs, or water pipes, rather unique.

Maybe you aren’t into smoking but still want to indulge. Then there are edibles, or medibles for medical marijuana. I stopped by a booth featuring Mary Lou’s Edibles and talked with Mary Lou. She had some delicious looking peanut butter cookies on display. “Are these samples?” I asked. (While no marijuana was for sale at the fair, some booths were offering free samples that you were required to take off of the premises before consuming.) “No,” she said, “but you can go online and order them.” She handed me her card. It announced, “Made with Oregon Cannabis and Love by the Happy Granny.” I’ll bet she is.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair. Oregon state law prohibits consumption in public areas.

Kettle Corn anyone?

Kettle Corn anyone? A number of booths had edibles on display. They ranged from kettle corn, to chocolate, to cookies, to brownies and candy. An important issue is keeping these products away from children.

Mimim's medical marijuana being displayed at the Cannais Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

When edibles are used for medical purposes, they are called ‘medibles.’ I share a concern with the cannabis industry that the pharmaceutical industry will step in, patent medicines, and charge a hundred times more for medical marijuana than people presently pay. I feel the same way about agribusiness stepping in and wiping out the thousands of small farms that now grow cannabis.

A series of lectures were being offered and I stopped by to listen to one being given by Pioneer Pete Gendron. Pete represents Oregon’s marijuana growers on the state level. I am assuming that his pioneer status comes from being one of Oregon’s original pot growers. He certainly looks the part. He is also a highly intelligent and articulate man. He talked about cannabis politics in Oregon. I learned the reason behind the 8-foot fences from him. I also learned that marijuana isn’t quite the water hog it is claimed to be. Alfalfa requires seven times as much water to grow.

Pioneer Pete was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming.

Pioneer Pete Gendron was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming and consumption.

Today, the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, continues to label marijuana as a class-1 drug, on par with heroin. Pete told us that when the cannabis industry requested an opportunity to prove it didn’t belong at that level, the DEA said, “We can’t do that. It is a class-1 drug,” i.e. it is illegal to use so any evidence you gather using it is illegal. Makes complete sense, right. Have you ever read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22?

The times they are a-changing, however. Cannabis plants will join carrots and cabbages at this year’s Oregon State Fair. How much more mainstream can you go? California will vote on legalization for recreational use this fall. On the national level, the Democratic Platform includes a plank that would push for legalization nation-wide. It is only a matter of time.

That’s it for the break! It’s back to bicycling in my next blog. We have a mountain range to climb over: the Great Smokies!

The Scopes Trial, a BIG dog, and a Speeding Semi… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

In 1925, William Jennings Bryan debated with Clarence Darrow in this courthouse over whether evolution should be taught in Tennessee schools.

The Dayton, Tennessee Courthouse where the Scopes Trial took place in 1925.

I had left Spencer and was heading for Pikeville on Highway 30 when the dog came roaring out to eat me. He was a big dog, a really BIG, ugly dog. His daddy must have been a Bullmastiff and his mommy a Rottweiler. And I am sure that he had experienced an unhappy puppyhood. I was about to drop down a steep hill; thirty feet farther and I could have cranked down on my pedals and been gone. As it was, I leapt off my bike and grabbed my air pump, careful to keep my bike between the monster and me. “No, bad dog!” I yelled. He growled. I reached down and grabbed a large rock. Usually this is a sign for the dog to exit the scene. All he did was snarl deep snarls and creep forward, salivating, ready to pounce. Oh boy, I thought, this is it.

And then fate intervened. It was almost enough to make me change my ideas about God. A bee landed on his nose and stung him. Or maybe it was a large horsefly that bit him. Whatever it was, I was on my bike and out of there faster than he could fall to the ground and start pawing at his abused snout. Had he been a cheetah, he might have caught me. But I doubt it.

The dog would have had to run very fast to catch me.

The dog would have had to run very fast to catch me.

Highway 30 in eastern Tennessee runs in an east-west direction and cuts across the Cumberland Plateau.

Highway 30 at a more leisurely pace.

Another view.

Another view.

I forgave the dog. It was up to his owner to keep him leashed or in his yard. And I suspect he had been trained to behave as he did. I wasn’t so forgiving of the truck driver that gave me flying lessons.

I had been daydreaming and taken a wrong turn out of Pikeville. Discovering my mistake, I had turned around and was happily contemplating a hamburger. That’s when the 18-wheeler came up behind me going about 60.  A car was coming from the other direction. The truck driver didn’t even slow down. He flew by inches away. The turbulence from the rear of the truck literally raised my bike and me three feet off of the ground. I landed hard. How I managed to stay upright, I don’t know. The only damage was two flats. It could have been ever so worse. A kind, Tennessee driver stopped to make sure I was okay. The trucker just kept on trucking.

I made it into Dayton without any further incidents. It’s a pretty town that borders on the Tennessee River. The Scopes Trial is its claim to fame. The event started as a publicity stunt.

Dayton is next to the Tennessee River. After crossing it in Alabama on the Natchez Trace, I had returned to it.

Dayton is next to the Tennessee River. After crossing it in Alabama on the Natchez Trace, I had returned to it.

The Tennessee River flows by Dayton, TN where the 1925 Scopes Trail took place.

I liked this view of it with the sun captured in the trees.

Sunset on the Tennessee River near Dayton in eastern Tennessee.

And at sunset.

In 1925, the State of Tennessee had passed a law that outlawed teaching evolution in public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had responded by offering to support anyone who would challenge the law. Some business people in Dayton, meeting over coffee at the local drug store, had decided that jumping into the fray would give their community some much-needed publicity and improve its stagnant economy. They recruited a substitute science teacher, John Scopes, to claim he had taught evolution in the local high school. (Scopes actually didn’t remember whether he had or not.) He was duly arrested and the circus came to town.

The actual table where the business leaders of Dayton plotted out the steps that would lead to the Scopes Trial. The background photograph is of Robinson's drug store where they met with John Scopes.

The actual table where the business leaders of Dayton plotted out the steps that would lead to the Scopes Trial. The background photograph is of Robinson’s drug store where they met. This display is included in an excellent small museum in the basement of the courthouse.

William Jennings Bryan arrived for the prosecution. He was a populist who had run for President (unsuccessfully) three times on the Democratic ticket and was considered the best orator in the US. He had fought against big banks and big corporations. You may be familiar with his most famous quote: “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” He supported women getting the right to vote. He was also a devout Christian who favored prohibition and fervently believed that humans had jumped from clay and ribs to who we are— without any messy steps between. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association sponsored him.

Another view of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton. A state of William Jennings Bryan is located in front. A debate is going on in the community now over whether to add a statue of Clarence Darrow.

Another view of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton. A statue of William Jennings Bryan is located in front. A debate is going on in the community now over whether to add a statue of Clarence Darrow, who argued on behalf of evolution.

The architect who planned the Rhea County Courthouse where the Scopes trial took place designed the windows to look like crosses.

A guard at the courthouse was quite proud to show us that the architect of the building had incorporated windows that look like crosses, reflecting the Christian influence of the time.

Clarence Darrow came to defend John Scopes and the cause of teaching evolution in schools on behalf of the ACLU. He shared many of Bryan’s beliefs. He was a populist and Democrat who devoted his life to defending those he considered underdogs. He represented labor interests and became known as one of the best criminal defense lawyers ever. He passionately opposed the death penalty. His religious views were that of an agnostic, believing that we cannot know for sure whether God exists, and, if so, what his (or her) true nature is.

Media came from around the world to witness this colossal battle between science and religion, as did every huckster for hundreds of miles around. The Baltimore Sun sent its nationally renowned reporter, H.L. Mencken, to report on the event. Mencken was noted for his sharp tongue, cynicism, and biting humor. He had coined the phrase ‘Bible Belt’ and had immediately dubbed the Scopes Trial the ‘monkey trial.’ He described the prosecution and jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” It was Mencken who had encouraged Darrow to participate.

For all of the hoopla, little was decided by the trial. The judge, a man with fundamentalist beliefs, suppressed any evidence on behalf of evolution. The jury was only allowed to consider whether Scopes was guilty of breaking Tennessee law, which he had according to his own testimony. He was found guilty and fined $100. (The charge and fine were later dropped on a technicality.)

The issue obviously didn’t go away. Millions of words have been written about the trial. It was recreated in the 1960 movie, Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy.  Tennessee didn’t remove the statute barring evolution from being taught until 1967.

Today, fundamentalists argue that evolution should be taught in US schools only as a theory with “intelligent design” being given equal billing. Teachers, principals, school boards and state legislatures continue to be pressured to bring the Bible back into the classroom. I’ve told the story before how a parent walked into Peggy’s office when she was principal of an elementary school and demanded that all books on dinosaurs in the school library be removed because dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible. She had told the man that he had the right to remove his son from the school, but the books were staying. If the son stayed, he was going to learn about dinosaurs.

Dayton is still reaping the benefits of the trial. It has rebuilt the courtroom where the Scopes Trial took place to look exactly like it did in 1925. Once a year it has a pageant that relives the trial. Peggy and I made a point of visiting the courthouse on our route review.

The stairway up to the courtroom where the Scopes Trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.

Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, John Scopes and everyone else involved in the trial would have walked up these elegant steps.

An exact recreation of the courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee where the scopes trial was held.

The actual courtroom as it has been recreated.

Given that I am 96% great ape, genetically speaking, I take the stand as Clarence Darrow. (grin)

Given that I am 96% great ape, genetically speaking, I take the stand as Clarence Darrow. (grin) The ghostly judge objected to my attire and opinions.

NEXT BLOG: It’s up and over the Great Smokey Mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina where bears roam the streets! (Sort of.)